The people who had nothing to lose
The image of a woman holding an umbrella while in chest-deep wastewater still lingers on my mind. And that was last week in the aftermath of the perennial flooding in Metro Manila.
At first, I was amused by the absurdity of it all. But looking at it again, I had mixed feelings whether to be amused or be dismayed at such a pathetic sight.
Each year, certain parts of the megacity simply turn into a cesspool after a storm or even just after a torrential downpour.
I asked myself: Why is it that our response to the disaster remains to be a vicious cycle? The flood comes, the relief arrives, the wastewater subsides, and the flood will soon be forgotten until another one hits us again.
Why do we subject ourselves to this kind of indignity? Is it because our leaders have run out of ideas? Or is it because they simply do not have the political will and resolve to change our appalling condition? These are difficult questions that have been asked many times.
The unfortunate thing about this is the fact that many studies and policies to address this pestering problem are already known. Whether it is creating new growth points, engaging in disaster planning, pursuing mitigation strategies, or decongesting highly urbanized areas—all have been proposed and planned over decades. But the implementation of these studies and policies still remains to be a challenge for our leaders.
What explains this disconnect between policy and action?
I can think of two reasons. First, the nature of political tenure does not warrant continuity, more so, long-term planning. When politicians are preoccupied preparing for their reelection, by default, they pour their energy and resources to secure themselves in positions of power for whatever the law allows.
And so, when one thinks ahead of reelection, one does not really think ahead of disaster.
If politicians appear less bold and less imaginative in the way they approach the problem, it is because they are mindful of the limits that political tenure imposes upon them.
As a result, it encourages them to be more reactive rather than proactive toward risk reduction measures. Hence, anything that has to do with drastic solutions to the problem becomes a fleeting concern or none at all.
Needless to say, if one is not reelected, the successor ends up dismantling his/her predecessor’s priorities by pursuing his/her own agenda. And the process repeats itself.
Second, conveying the unprecedented nature and scale of the disaster can have a counterproductive effect. The steady flow of negative experiences being fed into a person’s psyche makes one jaded. It is not unusual that one gets to the point of just giving up on it.
Sensationalistic reporting or images of the devastation do not help either. When people are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, they tend to attribute the problem as something outside of human control. As a result, there is really nothing that one can do to prevent or change the situation.
And so, when one thinks “there’s nothing one can do,” preventive action becomes meaningless. All that one can do is pray. And praying is a strategy that majority of Filipinos overly rely on, for better or for worse.
Will our politicians change in the way they approach the problem of flooding and other related calamities? Will they eventually pursue drastic solutions to ameliorate the problem?
I don’t have the answer.
All I know is that the flood often takes its heaviest toll on those who can least afford it—the poorest of society.
Now, it makes sense to me why there are people who would bear any assault to their self-respect and dignity. And it is not because they chose it. Given the meager economic portion apportioned to them by society, they really have nothing to lose, except their lives.
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